Books of Glass
I’d like to tell you about the glass books — 8” x 10” pieces of clear glass hinged together in pairs, and graced, front and back, with wonderful works of art by everyday folks. Each of these ‘books’ tells a different and very human story about the effects of trauma and the coping behavior that might stem from it including substance abuse, eating disorders, anger, and everything else imaginable.
That’s the GlassBook Project in brief. The concept was created in 2009 by Rutgers University professor and artist Nick Kline in collaboration with Project Partner Helga Luest, the Witness Justice national nonprofit organization, and other artists, writers, survivors, students, and community organizations. Through the GlassBook Project, they hope to raise country-wide awareness and understanding for the way in which people respond to the abundance of emotional and physical wounds that seem to exist today. Since its inception the books have been exhibited in art galleries, educational institutions, and at federal and state meetings. They have drawn much attention.
Finding a way for the individual to express his or her reaction to personal trauma via an artistic form requires digging down deep into the psyche in order to first comprehend what is happening and then to interpret that knowledge for others to see — in this case, designing art-covered glass books that become a means to an end. Thoughtfully expressing the responses to trauma through a glass page is as significant as the end goal to disseminate information: in other words, to educate. Thus, the GlassBook Project is not only about creating images on glass: it is a teaching moment for those who see beyond the artistically bright colors and glittery objects; it is about reactions and the need to understand.
As terrific as it sounded, when the idea was first presented to me as a project for the Mom2Mom2 peer support program, I was skeptical. How would the GlassBook Project be helpful to the program’s recipients, primary caregiver mothers who have a child, or children, with special needs, e.g., autism, developmental delays, cerebral palsy, leukemia?
Mom2Mom’s program director, Cherie Castellano, however, recognized the importance of the GlassBook Project. Under Cherie’s wings, interested moms who were connected to Mom2Mom gathered to create their own glass pages with the guidance of artists Sarah Stengle, Nick Kline, and trauma expert and advocate Helga Luest.
The Mom2Mom group titled their collection of glass pages, Breathless. It was to be an advocacy and education effort, an artistic and absorbing outreach experience.
When the Breathless project began, I was invited to attend a training session although I wouldn’t take part in the project; I’d be away for most of the sessions. Besides being a huge fan of the Mom2Mom program, and despite my initial reaction, I was curious, and accepted the invitation, rather eagerly I must say.
On the day of one of the earlier training sessions, I sat down at a long, artsy-messy table in a sunny room in an art/media building on the Rutgers-Newark campus. Next to me was my friend, Amanda (Mandi) Grimes, a Mom2Mom volunteer and the mother of an adorable three-year-old Valerie Fund3 Children’s Center patient. We knew each other well. And in a flash, the two of us were discussing our glass book pages! No longer was I an observer.
As it turned out, the process is as interesting as the art itself, and working on a page, even as a novice, is as therapeutic as the satisfaction that comes with completion.
And so, as I listened to Sarah explain the techniques of working with glass, I also kept my eyes on the faces of the moms around the table. How did they react? Well, they were engrossed in every word that issued from Sarah’s mouth. The only sounds heard were questions asked and answered. The interest discovered as well as the short reprieve from the moms’ stress-filled lives was apparent in that GlassBook session and immediately changed my mind; both the experience and the resulting art I witnessed that day seemed invaluable to me and would no doubt be even more so once Breathless was exhibited.
The moms’ work, the materials used, the colors, the stories, and the supportive camaraderie discovered at that table were all part of the GlassBook Project. But the work was not yet done. When the glass pages were finished, each mom had to write an artist’s statement describing the meaning behind her art. No easy task that. Yet both the art and the artist’s statement would, I had no doubt, be wonderous.
Afterwards, over lunch at a diner and through emails, Mandi and I discussed the whys and wherefores underlying the art, hers and mine. Our two glass pages would be linked together and although she and I talked, I had nothing to do with the the concepts essential to our book. Mandi worked it out and put it all together; I contributed the photos! And what a job she did. I was truly breathless.
I saw our glass books displayed for the first time at the Autism NJ annual conference in October 2011. Mom2Mom’s Cherie, autism expert and advocate Mary Beth Walsh, and I had presented a workshop on resilience based on a book we are co-authoring, working title: Resilient Mothers in Challenged Families. Mandi and my husband Ed set up the Mom2Mom glass books display while Cherie, Mary Beth, and I discussed resilience in front of about twenty mothers of children with autism.
Later, as I walked up and down our exhibit table slowly examining each glass page, I saw that the transference of the moms’ trauma responses onto artful glass pages was done with such beauty and honesty that it did indeed take your breath away.
The small missing link was my artist’s statement. Everyone bothered me until I finally wrote the story behind my glass book pages. Following is Mandi’s statement and then mine; they are accurate descriptions of the art that traced our trauma and the trauma that guided our art.
Amanda Grimes’ Artist Statement
You are looking “through a mother’s eye” on the day I received my baby’s diagnosis of Leukemia.
In my book, I wanted to express the traumatic experience of my son and me. At Jacob’s birth, I had finally found my world. It was my beautiful baby boy. My job when I became a parent meant to love and protect my child. Everything I did, I did for him, and having him made some of life’s crazy turns easy…until the date that I never want to remember. I engraved this date on the glass, barely visible to signify that it will always be there—February 16, 2010.
Behind the date is a mirror with the image of the world, because when I became a mother, my child instantly became my world. But at that date and time, my world was also shattered. Hurt and fear took over, and I knew something was terribly wrong with my only twenty month old baby. I was completely devastated to learn there was a monster inside my baby boy that was stealing his smiles.
On the back side, you can see the picture of my eye, with my baby boy in the middle. This monster forced him and me into a bubble and a new over-protective life. We could no longer participate in everyday activities. My baby was trapped in a bubble that trapped me inside as well. I want to share this devastating experience with viewers, to expose this new, isolating world that I must continue to live in, a reality that I didn’t ask for.
Suzann B. Goldstein’s Artist Statement
The front cover of my glass book page shows a hazy photographic image of my two children smiling at me as they lean back against a beautiful cactus tree, a Pachypodium lamerei. In my imagination, the clarity of the tree’s leafy, enveloping branches shield the girls from harm. The back of the glass piece shows a blurred view of the same protective tree while my daughters have moved forward into the light. The fused imprint, front and back, always arouses in me a gamut of emotions from sadness to astonishment.
Both girls, two years apart, were diagnosed with cancer at different times in their brief lives: Valerie diagnosed at three with bone cancer and lost to us six years later, and Stacy diagnosed at twenty-five with breast cancer and gone twelve years after that.
Embedded in glass, their photo, taken years earlier and inventively superimposed in front of the tree offers me a well-preserved memory of Valerie and Stacy playing on the lawn in front of our home. Although gone from us now, their joie de vivre shines through and continues to shine undimmed for all those who knew them.
The three forms as a whole represent the in-between moments of life — those moments that recall a happier time despite illness. The unusual and memory-inducing permanence of the glass page allows me to return their broad smiles with a grin that is sometimes mixed with tears. It is the same reaction I get when I pass by the living tree on my many walks along a quiet Florida street. Those memories are important to me.
I call that tree Georgia. It looks like it might be a Georgia O’Keefe watercolor. But while fully-leafed in this piece, Georgia is most often bare. Nonetheless, she remains a sight to behold: tall and straight with branches stretching high to the bright blue sky.
And so, my girls and Georgia are a reminder to look upward when I feel down, to remember my lost children and their smiles, and to enjoy nature’s beauty as well as the memories that reside within us all.
My thanks to Mandi Grimes who so creatively developed my glass book pages as well as hers. She and I are connected through friendship, but it is more than that. She knows me well. We talked long about my piece but it was Mandi, the artistic mother of a three-year-old, who captured the concept and did the hard, innovative work of putting my scattered thoughts to glass.
Please click on http://www.glassbookproject.org/. In the beginning, simply wander through the site and see the many gorgeous glass pages. Then, on the left side of the screen, scroll down to the Glass Books section and click on Breathless. The colorful icons at the top of that screen will show you each of the moms’ artful work. Find Mandi’s pages and mine under the letter G. See how they are hinged together. They evoke anguish and joy both at the same time. Look carefully. Note that these pages as well as all the others speak to a mother’s love, a love that remains steadfast and transparent throughout time.
1. The Mom2Mom program at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey – University Behavioral HealthCare (UMDNJ-UBHC) provides a compassionate and encouraging environment for mothers of children with special needs. Call 1-877-914-6662 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. The Valerie Fund, supporting comprehensive healthcare for children with cancer and blood disorders since 1976; www.TheValerieFund.org., 973-761-0422.
Suzann B. Goldstein lives with her husband Ed and a tree named Buster (Read about a dog named Buster; 12/1/2010 post, A Half-baked Story About a Crazy Dog and a Nutty Squirrel; Source: www.unexpectedlives.com). Sue is co-founder with Ed of The Valerie Fund, has her Master of Arts degree in medical sociology from Rutgers University in New Jersey, is a published author and a poet, and has just recently completed her memoir, UNEXPECTED LIVES.